What a dinner party taught me about writing fiction

DSC_6119I recently hosted a dinner party. Not an easy task for me – especially since “Mom” got added to my title – so I planned it all out and made list after list (my husband would call it obsessive, I call it organized and prepared).

Ingredients for a great dinner party (and how it compares to fiction):

–       perfect guest list (characters)

–       spotlessly clean house (setting)

–       menu complete with drinks, allergy considerations and kid friendly food (plot)

The day arrived. Everything was going smoothly – according to plan.

One hour before the guests were due to arrive my husband received bad news from his family overseas. (Characters in chaos!)

Half an hour before the guests were due to arrive my seven year old had a melt down and tore apart the house. (Scene altered!)

Ten minutes before the guests were due to arrive the power went out. (Dinner was in the oven, so this messed up the plot in more ways than one…)

Did the party go on?  YESDSC_6109

Did our guests have fun? YES

Did I have fun? Well…

There were moments of worry as we lit candles and then tried kept the kids away from them. There was stress as I pulled pasta out of the freezer to cook on the gas stove and raided my non-working fridge for sauce ingredients. Anxiety as my husband and I listened for the phone in hopes of an update on our hospitalized relative. And every time I tripped over a toy I was reminded that I no longer had control of the situation (and I don’t like losing control).

But… was the evening memorable?  YES!!

I think the event would have been successful (and I would’ve had a few less grey hairs)  if it had gone according to plan. But it wouldn’t have been as memorable. And probably not as fun. It was the unexpected – the extra stress, the extra tension – that made it special.

So, for my next work of fiction I will plan – characters, setting, plot – but I won’t bother with a detailed outline. I will let it unfold in ways that I don’t expect, no matter how hard the task or how grey the hair.

And hopefully  the outcome will be special – more special than anything I could’ve planned on my own.

Yolanda Ridge is the author of Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2011) and Road Block (Orca Book Publishers, 2012).

4 Responses to What a dinner party taught me about writing fiction

  1. This is why I love this blog! Fresh, honest writing.
    I’ve never hosted a perfect dinner party, and nothing I write ever matches my plans.
    Thank you!

  2. The preparation for hosting a dinner party is daunting and filled with “what ifs?” I agree with you, a memorable party is much more fun than one that goes according to plan.

  3. It’s always these chaotic, unexpected things that we recall the most. Great post, I really enjoyed it.

  4. T. P. Jagger

    I’m betting the continually increasing chaos had you thinking, What’s going to happen next?!?!, which is exactly what you want your readers thinking as they read (and don’t dare put down) your stories. Enjoyed your post! :)